Distracted driving deaths fall - but teens still text at the wheel

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Teens are failing to get the text-driving message, according to a survey carried out for insurance company State Farm.

Most 14 to 17-year-olds believe that texting while driving is less dangerous than drink-driving. While only 36 percent strongly agreed that if they regularly text and drive they could be killed one day, 55 percent strongly agree that drinking while driving could be fatal.

As one might expect, teens who do text while driving show less awareness of the dangers than those who don't. Among teens that have never texted while driving, 73 percent strongly agree they will get into an accident if they text and drive, compared with only 52 percent of those admitting to the practice.

"Some teens still think the consequences of reaching for a cell phone are less severe than reaching for a beer bottle," said Laurette Stiles, vice president of Strategic Resources at State Farm.

"We have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to helping teens understand that texting while driving can be every bit as dangerous as drinking while driving. It's an awareness gap that must be addressed."

In fact, research shows that texting may be as dangerous as or more so than drinking. In a 2008 study by the United Kingdom's Transport Research Laboratory, the reaction time of drivers aged between 17 and 24 was reduced by 35 percent when typing a text message - compared with 12 percent when driving after consuming alcohol to the legal limit.

A similar study from the University of Utah found that talking on a cellphone caused as much impairment as drink-driving.

The National Safety Council estimates that 200,000 crashes each year are caused by drivers who are texting. But the situation may improving slightly: the Department of Transportation has today released figures showing that the number of deaths caused by distracted driving has fallen by six percent over the last year, to 5,500 cases, with around 450,000 injuries.

But, says transportation secretary Ray LaHood, "Because many police departments do not routinely document distraction factors in their crash reporting, I think it's safe to say these numbers are only the tip of the iceberg."